Last Friday, a 22-year-old man named Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured seven more in what most news outlets are describing as a “shooting rampage.” Rodger died later that night from a gunshot wound to his head, though it’s still unclear as to whether or not it was self-inflicted or from responding deputies shooting back after he opened fire on them.
Almost everything I’ve read about him has referred to him as a “madman” or “mentally ill.”
No. We have no evidence yet that he suffered from any kind of mental illness or was seeking any sort of treatment. Immediately claiming that with no proof to back that fact up leads to the further stigmatization of the mentally ill, and contributes to the (incorrect) assumption that mental illness equals violence, and vice versa.
We don’t know whether Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. What we do know is that he was a Men’s Rights Activist, or MRA.
He was an active member of the “PUAhate,” an online forum (which has been down since the shootings) dedicated to “revealing the scams, deception and misleading marketing techniques used by dating gurus and the seduction community to mislead men and profit from them.” And just to clarify, they’re not revealing these scams because of how vile and misogynistic they are, but rather because these men have tried these techniques and still failed to trick women into sleeping with them. These are men who both feel entitled to have sex with women and also blame all women everywhere for not fucking them. See, they want to have sex with a woman because that’s what they deserve just for being dudes, but they also hate women for withholding what they view as rightfully theirs. And I mean, boy do they ever hate women. The PUAhate forum has, according to an article on The Hairpin, threads with titles like “Are ugly women completely useless to society?” and “Have any hot women ever committed suicide?”
Shortly before going on his killing spree, Rodger posted a video on YouTube to serve as his manifesto. In it, he declares that he’s a 22-year-old virgin, and then goes on to say:
‘College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure. But in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness. It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me. But I will punish you all for it,’ he says in the video, which runs to almost seven minutes.
>‘I’m going to enter the hottest sorority house of UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoilt, stuck-up, blonde slut that I see inside there. All those girls that I’ve desired so much, they would’ve all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance towards them,’
‘I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male …’
This is what the Men’s Rights Movement teaches its members. Especially vulnerable, lonely young men who have a hard time relating to women. It teaches them that women, and especially feminist women, are to blame for their unhappiness. It teaches them that women lie, and that women are naturally predisposed to cheat, trick and manipulate. It teaches them that men as a social class are dominant over women and that they are entitled to women’s bodies. It teaches them that women who won’t give them what they want deserve some kind of punishment.
We need to talk about this. The media, especially, needs to address this. We live in a culture that constantly devalues women in a million little different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take that devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women. And I don’t mean that all these men have been physically violent towards women, but rather that they use violent, degrading, dehumanizing language when discussing women. Whose bodies, just as a reminder, they feel completely entitled to.
Another reminder: this isn’t an isolated incident. Not by a long shot. No, most men don’t go out in a blaze of glory after shooting up in a sorority house, but there are so many examples of men becoming violent towards women after being rejected. Like the kid last month who stabbed a girl to death because she wouldn’t go to the prom with him. The threat of violence is the main reason why many women feel unable to leave an abusive relationship – because after leaving is when they are at their most vulnerable. When you look the statistics on violence against women, Elliot Rodger’s act doesn’t seem so much like a one-off incident. He was participating, albeit in a grandiose public way, in the time-honored tradition of controlling women with violence and punishing them when they don’t behave as desired.
We don’t know if Elliot Rodger was mentally ill. We don’t know if he was a “madman.” We do know that he was desperately lonely and unhappy, and that the Men’s Rights Movement convinced him that his loneliness and unhappiness was intentionally caused by women. Because this is what the Men’s Rights Movement does: it spreads misogyny, it spreads violence, and most of all it spreads a sense of entitlement towards women’s bodies. Pretending that this is the a rare act perpetrated by a “crazy” person is disingenuous and also does nothing to address the threat of violence that women face every day. We can’t just write this one off – we need to talk about all of the fucked up parts of our culture, especially the movements that teach men that they have the right to dominate and intimidate and violate women, and we need to change things. Because if we don’t, I guarantee that this will happen again. And again. And again.
‘”Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine. So this male friend of mine, who does by the way exist, conveniently entered into the following dialogue. “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.’
Margaret Atwood, Writing the Male Character (1982)
ETA: A few people have been commenting to tell me that I’m wrong about Elliot not having a mental illness, as his family members have reported to the media that he had Asperger syndrome. Asperger syndrome is not a mental illness – it is a neurological condition, and it does not predispose people to violence. Correlating Asperger’s with violence is wrong and uninformed and you are doing more harm than good by saying that.
This article originally appeared at The Belle Jar.